Every year we get together at the Core Values Awards Gala to celebrate Award Winners from across North America.We celebrate people making waves of change in their communities both great and small, we reflect on how we identify with the Core Values, and perhaps take a moment to refill our souls and remember why we do what we do.
This year we saw a variety of projects from Transportation Infrastructure engagement, to rural dialogue on climate change and the revival of a historically disenfranchised neighborhood in Denver, Colorado, through a first of its’ kind neighborhood Health and Well-Being Center.
By: Andrea Clark, 2017 North American Conference Winner
Two months ago, I did not know IAP2 was a “thing”. I learned about the organization from a transportation planner at my summer internship. She suggested I apply for a scholarship to attend the conference, and because of that conversation I attended my first IAP2 conference last week. I met a wonderful people and learned a lot, but what I really left with was a sense that my skills are valid.
A few weeks before the conference, my professor had each student take the StrengthsFinder assessment. My top five strengths can be categorized as “soft skills”. Although it was no surprise, these skills can be overlooked in a highly quantitative field. Can I list intuition and empathy as skills on my resume? Will anyone hire me because I can read the vibe of a room? As I heard professionals share stories about their work during the conference, I realized how important “soft skills” are to thoughtfully plan and facilitate public participation.
Conference sessions on environmental justice, situational analysis and collaboration emphasized really engaging and listening to people from a place of mutual respect to understand their concerns, needs and interests, particularly people who have been marginalized. Being around a group of professionals who embody these “soft skills” validated my own. I see how my strengths and skills will benefit my future work in equitable and sustainable urban planning and community development. I look forward to developing these skills with IAP2 resources and trainings over the years to come.
Nelson Mandela once said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” He was so right. When you make the effort to speak someone else’s language, even if it’s just basic phrases here and there, you are saying to them, “I understand that you have a culture and identity that exists beyond me. I see you as a human being.” – “Born a Crime” by Trevor Noah
Language is how we communicate with one another and, since it is how we communicate, it is often the fodder for our emotions. Our hearts swell when someone says they love us for the first time, we weep when we confront terrible news, we laugh when we are told a joke, and we are enraged when we are presented with injustice.
When IAP2 originally created the Foundations course, John Godec was the principal writer of the section that discussed risk communication and dealing with upset people. Frequently, the trainers would receive feedback that they wanted to spend more time on this section. In response to this demand Stephani Roy McCallum, John Godec, and Mary Hamel created a class called Emotion and Outrage in Public Participation (recently retitled Strategies for Dealing with Opposition and Outrage in P2).
“The course is about human behavior. It’s about social psychology. About the psychology of people and people’s perception. How people perceive and interpret information differently depending on their emotional state.” -John Godec
Much of the content in the class on risk communication comes from Dr. Peter Sandman, an expert in the area whose model of risk is Risk = Hazard + Outrage. Dr. Sandman discusses three types of risk communication that can be understood by mapping where they fall on a chart of outrage and hazard, see the image below.
Much of the content in the class on risk communication comes from Dr. Peter Sandman, an expert in the area whose model of risk is Risk = Hazard + Outrage. Dr. Sandman discusses three types of risk communication that can be understood by mapping where they fall on a chart of outrage and hazard, see the image left.
See Dr. Peter Sandman’s full video on this topic here.
This is a helpful tool that provides a practical approach to managing people’s outrage. However, when I think about the kind of outrage that troubles the United States today, I can’t help but think that there is a third dimension to this chart. A z-axis that acknowledges that hazards are not experienced evenly across populations. And while we have made a lot of progress on a range of issues, I would also say that this progress was made without acknowledging the z-axis and, to Trevor Noah’s point, only in one language and that is the language of a group that is predominantly upper class, white, and male. As a result, we have left certain important pieces of issues unresolved and unacknowledged and all we know is that the solutions have supposedly “created jobs” or “grew the GDP.” These aren’t words that go to my heart.
I had the privilege of speaking with John Godec and Stephani Roy McCallum to understand how they believed the patterns of opposition and outrage have changed and what they think we can do about it. Do they see patterns in the opposition and outrage they encounter in their work? Yes. And more of it. John said that he believed a lot of this growth comes from the widening gap between the government and the governed. That gap has fostered a large amount of distrust fueled by rhetoric citing government as the issue rather than the problem and the fact that government doesn’t work well for many people. However, the closer people are to government services, the more likely they are to trust their government, which means somewhere there’s a fundamental breakdown in communication.
Stephani pointed out that these highly charged spaces are also more visible than ever with the support of social media, with more people engaging in the demonization of people who they view as “on the other side.” She went on to say that this is not an experience unique to the United States, but is occurring across the globe. “[The political situation in the United States] is just a bellwether of that shift.”
Taken all at once, these issues are incredibly daunting. What can we, as P2 practitioners, do to manage outrage and opposition in our own communities?
1. Go beyond the project level.
Dealing with emotion and outrage successfully is “about the whole system changing not just about completing a project,” says Stephani. She noted that this is a big challenge in P2, that so much of the focus is on the project level, which is not a way to change people’s hearts and minds. Emotion and outrage are often closely tied to a lack of trust. It’s important to do good P2 even when the public isn’t going to be upset and when you aren’t asking anything of them. Put goodwill in the bank over time, rather than starting from a position of asking for newfound trust at the beginning of each project.
2. Do your due diligence.
If there is one thing that John and Stephani taught me, it’s that there is no excuse for not knowing about opposition. None. You should never be surprised by the fact that there is opposition. To make sure this carnal offense never happens, do your due diligence. Talk to the community and ask them who else you should talk to. John said “the ability to predict how people are going to feel about a project is critical to the process.” Get out there and get to know your community!
3. Don’t underestimate your community.
Believe it or not, people want to help. Stephani said that she enjoys working in spaces with high emotion, because they “are spaces of opportunity and possibility; when people have passion, they give you something to work with.” An example of this is a story John told me about a transportation project in Arizona. A major intersection was going to be redesigned and would shut down access to downtown for 18 months. An environmental study predicted this work would lead to the closure of 15 local businesses. Originally the approach was an informational campaign, but then John brought the stakeholders into a room together with local residents and business owners to talk about any possible ways to mitigate the impacts. They adjusted, tweaked, and pushed the schedule around in a way that was able to “minimize anger and optimize the situation.” This was supplemented with a targeted promotional effort for the businesses that were going to be impacted the most. After much relationship- and trust-building, the community was determined to support these businesses. In the end six businesses opened, zero failed. Never underestimate a community’s ability to be creative and pull together.
4. Put down the templates
IAP2 courses on emotion, outrage, and opposition will provide new ways of thinking about these issues and will provide tools and approaches to try. They will also help you think about how you show up to a meeting and what issues you and your organization are dealing with. Stephani said, “the course is a powerful first step in thinking differently and learning how to approach opposition and polarization in a different way. But it is not a magic wand.” Sometimes people think that if they fill out enough forms or the poster boards are good enough that it will overcome the outrage, but that will never be the case because then you are speaking a language they understand rather than their language. Stephani worked on a project in Canada dealing with conflict about language, a highly polarized issue rooted in identity, and she said “it is not about results or facts. It’s about the culture of communities. For this, we need a model for having brave and honest conversations.” In her work to unpack this issue and transform the nature of the conflict, Stephani worked with participants to create a story-based process where they could share their experiences- good, bad, and ugly. There is no template for doing this, but effective and successful P2 will help participants see the whole person and not just the issue.
5.Relax, nothing is under control
Over-reliance on tools, process steps, and check boxes will gain you the illusion of control, but lose, as Stephani pointed out, “the heart, soul, and complexity of the issue.” It also, as John pointed out, makes you “lose sight of the fact that there are real human beings affected by what [you] do.” There is no magic formula for avoiding outrage. If opposition (that, hopefully, you were anticipating) arises, stop. Talk to people. Give them individual or small group attention and consideration. John noted that “the worst thing you could do is hold a public meeting.” This is an opportunity to build trust for both you and your community, and it is important to be able to trust them enough to give the control away. As Stephani said, “The messier it is, the more there is to work with.”
There is a lot of despair here in the United States and around the world. Despair created by nature, by humankind, and a combination of the two. I spent the last week surrounded by P2 practitioners at the North American Conference hosted by IAP2 USA and Canada, but attended by people from Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, South Africa, Europe – and those are just the people I personally encountered. Each one of these people attended the conference to become better at showing their communities not what makes them different, but what they have in common with one another. It certainly gave me hope to know we’d all land back home re-energized and ready to expand our community vocabulary.
Thank you to John Godec and Stephani Roy McCallum for taking time to speak with me about their experience designing the EOP2 course and their personal experiences dealing with emotion and outrage in communities.
In 2014, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) conducted an internal assessment of its public outreach and engagement practices with the goal of improving consistency across its 200+ projects. They also interviewed other transportation agencies nationwide, and researched best practices in the field of public participation. Based on this assessment, the agency created its Public Outreach and Engagement Team Strategy (POETS), pointing a new path forward and starting a close relationship with IAP2.
During three years of development and implementation, POETS has sought to embody the IAP2 core principles. Key concepts promoted by IAP2 (such as the spectrum of public participation) have contributed to a shared language and understanding among leadership and staff at SFMTA. And perhaps most importantly, IAP2 training has had a direct impact on the agency’s capacity to pursue excellence in public participation.
Staff training is central to SFMTA’s strategy to strengthen its relationship with the community. POETS establishes new requirements and higher expectations for public participation across all projects. It also provides a wide variety of resources to employees to empower them to meet the new requirements, including opportunities for education and professional development. Those who take advantage of these opportunities can receive formal recognition and rewards.
A specific benchmark for the agency is that every employee whose job involves community outreach and engagement should complete the IAP2 Foundations of Public Participation course. More than 70 have done so as of mid-2017. SFMTA has seen that those who complete the course feel more confident in the field, are inspired to consider new ways to engage the public in their projects, and are better prepared to consider opportunities for public participation beyond “informing.”
Staff training not only strengthens the skills of individual employees, but it also promotes an organizational culture that values public participation. Staff members know it is central to SFMTA’s mission, agency leadership reinforces this message by investing in staff and acknowledging their effort, and POETS demonstrates to the community that the agency’s commitment to public participation is real.
By: Catherine Smith
IAP2 USA Board Member & Communications Committee Member
Think back to 25 years ago. It was 1992, an election year – Clinton, Bush, Perot. Our country’s population just tipped the 250 million mark instead of the 326 million we are now. Dr. Seuss’ Oh The Places You’ll Go topped the bestseller list, and Murphy Brown, Cheers and Northern Exposure were playing on our TVs. No one had a smart phone. No one texted. Amazon and Ebay had three more years to go before launching online shopping. Friends were made in-person and over the phone, not through online social systems, not then, not yet. Around the world, the UN held the first Earth Summit in Brazil, where the US refused to sign the UN Convention on Climate Change and Biological Diversity. Bosnia declared independence, the European Union was established, and South Africans voted to end apartheid.